Enhancing Manpower Capabilities

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Currently there is shortage of pilots for commercial aviation in many parts of the world. For example, it was reported that in the United States there is shortage of pilots, particularly at the regional airline levels.

The report indicated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that there were about 827,000 pilots in the US in 1987.

Over the last three decades, that number has decreased by 30 percent.
Ironically reports also indicated that during this period, there has been a tremendous increase in the demand for air travel. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted that over the next 20 years, air travel would double.

This global challenge has a peculiarity in Nigeria.
Currently there are about 500 pilots that are not employed, but Nigerian airlines still employ expatriate pilots. This contradicting reality, experts in the industry aver, was what has put the industry in such precarious situation where the domestic airlines spend so much money on expatriate pilots, while Nigerians who trained, as pilots cannot get jobs.

THISDAY investigations revealed that in the last 10 years, indigenous pilots trained by the defunct Nigeria Airways held sway by piloting majority of the planes in the country but in the last five years most of them retired, besides the many that travelled overseas to get jobs, so the indigenous carriers inevitably began to rely on expatriate pilots and engineers.

THISDAY also learnt that expatriate pilots take a huge chunk of money from airlines and they give half of the service that indigenous pilots can give. They work for only six months out of 12 months in a year. Almost all of them are paid in dollars.

This huge cost has made Nigerian airlines to think again and recently have started training some indigenous pilots.
In fact, airlines like Air Peace, which has about 27 aircraft had to engage many pilots in training and would type-rate them to fly their aircraft.

The major challenge with the about 500 Nigerian pilots that are unemployed is that many of them have not type-rated to particular aircraft types and they have not built up their flight hours that domestic airlines could engage them as flight officers.

The Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Captain Abdulsalami Muhammed, explained that despite the shortage of pilots globally; there is still pilots that are unemployed in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

“The issue of unemployment of pilots is not common to Nigeria. Some countries have different requirements for pilots. A lot of these countries, you need to have certain requirements of experience as a pilot before you can fly in the airline industry.

“For instance, in the United States, you have to have a minimum of 1,500 hours as a pilot before you can fly and join the likes of United and American Airlines and others.

“So, when pilots come out of school, they join commuter airlines they go into general aviation. Some stay to work in the flying school as instructors and build their experience to get the required hours before they are qualified to get the required hours to work in the airline industry.

“Same thing applies to South Africa. You need to have that flying hours,” the Rector said.
He noted in Nigeria, however, such law that a pilot must have 1,500 flight hours before he is employed by commercial airlines does not apply, but Nigerian airlines have their own requirements based on their own procedural manuals.

Most of the procedural manuals of Nigerian airlines, THISDAY learnt, stipulate that the pilot must have been type-rated to particular aircraft type and has gained some flight hours before he be employed as flight officer.

Many indigenous operators are sceptical that if they train pilots who just graduated with private pilot licence (PPL) and train and type-rate them, they may not stay after they have gained their aircraft operation licence. They usually go to the airlines overseas, especially in the Middle East where they are paid mouth-watering emoluments.
Captain Muhammed noted that it would be difficult for the College to provide the equipment, like simulators for the training of pilots for various aircraft types, so the airlines have to step in here to train the pilots to operate their different aircraft.

The rector also noted that there is a cap on how a Nigerian airline can employ expatriate pilots and engineers, as the federal government has limited the number of foreign pilots in the country.

“On the use of expatriate pilots, the government has said it several times that as long as a qualified Nigerian is here on ground, it would not approve a foreigner to do the job in Nigeria.

“For instance, if an airline introduces new equipment, there may not be local pilots to operate that equipment and as a stop gap, you have to bring in qualified people anywhere you can get them to come and start utilising the aircraft,” the rector said